Declining healthcare services are the largest concern for rural residents throughout the UK according to the results of a recent survey.

Health topped the list of the topics of most concern to rural residents ahead of public transport, rural housing and rural crime.

The survey, conducted by the Countryside and Community Research Institute for the Rural Services Network (RSN) and Rural England (RE), is believed to be the largest of its kind for many years. Full findings are to be published later this autumn.

RSN chair Cecilia Motley said: “This early evidence of concern about healthcare provision comes at a time when many countryside communities face the withdrawal of vital GP services, NHS Service re-configurations and general recruitment difficulties. NHS providers are already expressing grave concerns about what they are describing as the worse winter in recent history.

“Although rural residents have other concerns – such as lack of affordable housing, poor public transport, often non-existent mobile and broadband connectivity and fears over the future of rural schools – health provision, social care and accessibility has risen sharply up the rural agenda.”

The aim of the survey was to canvass rural opinion with a view to creating a statistically valid representative panel of people to highlight the need for the adequate provision of rural public services and other policy issues affecting rural areas.

Largely rural shire areas score badly on some Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF) indicators, according to a recent report by RE. These includes the provision of health checks, mental health services, access to health screening and late HIV diagnosis.

In terms of rural public transport, the survey findings reflect the impact of significant reductions in public transport services across rural areas as a result of government cuts in financial support for local government services.

Campaigners have long warned that high prices mean people are often unable to afford to buy their own home in the communities where they were born.

A National Rural Crime Network report in 2015 warned that crime in the countryside was costing as much as £800m annually, putting further pressure on already stretched police forces.

Councillor Motley said: “There is a lot of concern among rural communities about the impact of public service cuts on services generally.

“Rural areas have always had thinner services than in other areas and funding cuts are hitting those services very hard – rural people, businesses and communities are still having a very difficult time.”